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Stigma is the attribution of negative attitudes to a group based on assumed characteristics leading to discrimination against such a group. Many people fear those with mental illness and are ignorant to the any real information about mental illnesses and behavioral problems. While it seems to be okay to tell someone with high cholesterol to lose weight, it remains taboo to ask someone who consumes too much alcohol to see a mental health professional.
Historically, Mental illness has been depicted badly on screen, which sadly seems to be the only source of information for a vast majority of the population.
People find it difficult to believe that depression or any other mental illness for that matter has any biological basis. Its commonly seen as a weakness of character or as an unwarranted reaction to stress.
Ones needs to understand that all behavior, thoughts and beliefs have a biological basis. Your brain deciphers what your sense organs feel. This experience of the external world is encoded in the brain in the form of synapses or neuronal connections. Every little thought and act has roots in certain neurons in the brain firing in certain ways. Every little thing that one does from waking up in the morning to sleeping at night, ones preferences, passions, goals are all encoded in your brain as neuronal networks. Any physical or chemical changes in these neuronal networks would lead to behavioural changes that one would have little control over.
People with depression do not want to be sad, people with alcohol dependence may not want to drink and people with anxiety do not want be fearful all the time. This is not something one can snap out of, asking someone who is fighting their own brain will belittle their struggle and make them feel guilty.
The first step in the path to mental wellness is to address the stigma – deeply rooted in the community and sadly extending to other healthcare specialties also. My study from 2013-2016 revealed that many health care providers were grossly ill quipped to care for people with mental illness. Stigma extends to the medical profession also !
How do we beat stigma?
- Improve knowledge
- Improve attitudes
- Improve awareness
- Be the change.